11 Common Ways Cargo Theft Occurs

Thefts can range from small, subtle quantities that are part of larger shipments to aggressive hijackings involving entire truckloads of merchandise

Organized cargo theft incidents can occur at any point along the supply chain, whether at the point of manufacture, on loading docks, rail stations, distribution centers, or anywhere else merchandise is transported. Looking at the methods by which cargo theft incidents can occur, the direct theft of goods accounts for the overwhelming majority of incidents year-over-year. Thefts can range from small, subtle quantities that are part of larger shipments to aggressive hijackings involving entire truckloads of merchandise.

Some common ways that cargo theft occurs would include but are not limited to the following:

Leakage Operations. Leakage is a term that refers to the pilferage of parts of a shipment rather than the entire shipment. Typically carried out in such a way that it is very difficult to detect, this type of theft operation can also be quite elaborate. Leakage may involve the theft of entire cartons or removing desired product from within a carton and resealing the packaging to attempt to conceal the theft. This may involve tampering with trailer/carton seals and/or locks in order to conceal trailer break-ins or directly with the container or trailer to commit these thefts.

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Fictitious Pickups. Cargo theft groups will have individuals present themselves as legitimate drivers and boldly enter container terminals and/or shipping facilities with counterfeit paperwork in order to gain access to and make off with valuable loads.

Hijackings. Most hijacking incidents occur while a driver is away from the truck (such as at dinner or on a break) and the truck is idling or parked, with thieves simply breaking into the vehicle and driving off with the goods. In other instances, hijackers will conduct surveillance on a target vehicle and forcibly enter the cab while the driver is in the vehicle and when the vehicle comes to a stop. Freeway on- and off-ramps, rest stops, and other common stopping points are particularly dangerous.

Coerced Stops. A common method to coerce a driver to make an unplanned stop is to have an individual gain the driver’s attention while they’re driving. This individual may falsely inform the driver that something is wrong with their vehicle or may use other persuasive tactics to convince the driver to stop the vehicle. Once the driver pulls over and the vehicle stops, accomplices will arrive to steal the rig.

Burglaries. Burglary incidents typically involve entering a truck yard, commercial park, railroad yard, or other facility and forcibly entering trailers and containers searching for desired commodities to steal. Burglaries may also involve thieves cutting holes in the roof of a facility and targeting specific products through sophisticated operations.

Grab and Run. This technique is favored by cargo theft operations targeting trucks or containers loaded with high-tech and high-value merchandise. Often traveling in vans or similar vehicles, they follow a targeted vehicle waiting for the vehicle to stop. Once the rig stops, several individuals will forcibly break into the cargo area and off-load as much product as they can.

Terminal Robberies. Organized groups will enter a trucking facility and forcibly steal one or more loaded vehicles.

Driver Involvement. This refers to the practice of a driver actually participating in the theft of a loaded container. Drivers will generally agree to turn over part or all of their shipment to a cargo-theft operation for a substantial cash payment. Some hijackings are staged and involve the driver as well.

Organized Internal Groups. Cargo theft operations can infiltrate a supply chain network by having some of their own people employed throughout the network in positions with access to critical information or cargo, using collaborative efforts to create substantial losses. Individuals may get hired as dock workers who load or unload the trailers and even as guards who knowingly allow full loads to leave shipping yards. Groups may also approach employees, compensating them to “look the other way.”

Other Employee Involvement. This refers to incidents where company employees with advance knowledge and details of a particular shipment that is loaded into a specific trailer or container provides detailed cargo and transportation information to a cargo-theft operation in preparation for a theft.

Digital/Online Issues. Using the latest digital technology, cargo theft operations may breach company computer systems to target products, track shipments, and manipulate data for criminal gains. For example, shipping documents (bills of lading, manifests, and so forth), and electronic shipment information can be revised or altered.

Cargo theft remains an ongoing but highly misunderstood aspect of the retail supply chain. However, as the retail industry continues to react and respond to the changing demands of the retail customer, this area of the business will only continue to impact the evolving roles and responsibilities of the loss prevention professional. It behooves LP practitioners to expand their knowledge of supply chain and how loss occur through cargo theft and other means.

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